Getting serious about Syria’s refugee crisis

refugeesYou can scarcely turn on the news these days without seeing something about Syrians fleeing the horror of conflict — made all the more real by the recent haunting image of a Syrian toddler who died when his family tried to flee the genocide to the shores of Greece. The tragedy unfolding in Syria is absolutely heart breaking and I am saddened to see this country in ruins after visiting it only a few years ago.

But what no one really appears to be prepared to talk about is that the Christians in Syria are in particular immediate and grave danger. While all Syrians are seriously affected by the fallout of the civil war on the one side, and the advances of ISIS on the other side, there is no other religious group in Syria that faces as much persecution in the war-torn areas, simply for their religious beliefs. The Islamic State has destroyed many of the monasteries that were housing artifacts considered to be “un-Islamic.” Ironically, those Christians living in the areas still controlled by the Assad regime currently appear to have the best chances of not being killed immediately for their religious beliefs.

Other non-Christian historic sites are not safe either. Not long ago, Khaled al-Asaad, the archeologist guardian of relics in Palmyra,  was killed for trying to protect the ancient treasures.

While the focus is mainly on securing asylum for Syrians of Muslim faith, which is, of course, important, the remaining Christians in Syria (and there are relatively few) are in an especially urgent predicament. The few that have escaped to countries like Sweden have been harassed by Muslims, who have forced them to hide symbols of their faith. I am very disappointed to hear of those stories, and even more shocked that they receive so little publicity. I am certain the media reaction would be swifter if the situation were reversed.

The European Union (EU) has allocated where the refugees (mostly Muslims) should go — with Germany bearing the brunt of the most immigrants fleeing war. In fact, many Muslims are attempting to convert to Christianity to have a better chance at securing a life in Germany.

This is amid cries by some governments in Europe that say they should focus on Christian refugees, as many of the surrounding countries have Christian roots. Slovakia has apparently already refuted EU law and is accepting fleeing Christians only.

But the added challenge is getting Christians out of Syria safely to start with on a priority basis, and that help could be coming from home. Canada is putting resources towards securing refugees who are seeking asylum, but it isn’t putting priority on any particular faith group. This is understandable from a political point of view. After all, it is considered to be politically incorrect to put a word in for Christianity, even if Christian minorities face a greater danger in certain areas of the world than other religions do. With the resources that North America has, it could be playing a larger role.

More efforts and funding need to be made to ensure the Christian minority in the Middle East is given priority, before they simply become extinct. This is not an isolated ideal. Eric Abetz, a prominent Australian politician, has also said the same. Abetz has called Christians in the Middle East “the most persecuted group in the world” — and for the record, Australia has committed to taking in more than 12,000 immigrants under the refugee resettlement plan.